Kevin Harvick wins 4th pole of 2014, sets Brickyard 400 track record

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INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Harvick set a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track speed record in a stock car on Saturday, earning the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Harvick was the only driver to exceed 188 mph, recording a freaky fast mark of 188.470 mph. He finds himself in the same spot he was in the 2003 Brickyard, earning the pole and eventually winning the race.

Harvick has now won four poles in the first 20 races this season.

“They’ve turned me into a halfway-good qualifier with fast race cars,” Harvick told ESPN with a laugh. “To have the first pit stall, your problems will be a less starting from the front.”

Four-time Brickyard winner and current Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon qualified second with a speed of 187.770 mph and will start on the outside of the front row Sunday.

“I know we weren’t as good as Kevin today,” Gordon said. “But to have that awesome of a day and to be that close … to be on that front row 20 years after the first one, I get excited, what can I say?”

Chevrolet is going for its 12th consecutive win at the 2.5-mile oval. It’s certainly in good shape with six Chevy-powered drivers in the top 10.

But Chevy will have a strong challenge from Ford, particularly those of Penske Racing, which placed three drivers in the top-9: Brad Keselowski will start third, Juan Pablo-Montoya starts eighth and Joey Logano ninth.

Only one Toyota-powered driver qualified in the top-10, Brian Vickers.

Four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson, who is being picked by many as the favorite to win Sunday, qualified 11th.

“Decent performance, of course we’d like to be better, but at least we can see the front from there,” Johnson said.

Also having a decent qualifying run was Danica Patrick, who will start 14th.

Making only his third start of the 2014 season, Bobby Labonte made the field not on speed but on a past provisional, having been a former Brickyard 400 champion back in 2000.

Also, Aric Almirola will start near the back of the field due to going to a back-up car after hitting the wall during practice.

Brett Moffitt, Indiana native David Stremme and Camping World Truck Series regular Matt Crafton all failed to qualify and will miss Sunday’s race.

Here’s the starting grid for the 21st annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Row 1: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon

Row 2: Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman

Row 3: Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart

Row 4: Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya

Row 5: Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne

Row 6: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch

Row 7: Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick

Row 8: Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer

Row 9: Austin Dillon, Carl Edwards

Row 10: Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne

Row 11: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Marcos Ambrose

Row 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 13: Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears

Row 14: Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell

Row 15: Paul Menard, Josh Wise

Row 16: Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex

Row 17: Michael Annett, David Gilliland

Row 18: Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger

Row 19: Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 20: Cole Whitt, Travis Kvapil

Row 21: Aric Almirola, Reed Sorenson

Row 22: Bobby Labonte

Did not qualify: Brett Moffitt, David Stremme, Matt Crafton

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.